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10 things you need to know today: July 11, 2019

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Harold Maass
Alexander Acosta at a press conference
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1.

Acosta defends role in Epstein plea deal

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on Wednesday defended his role as a then-prosecutor in a controversial plea deal with financier Jeffrey Epstein on Florida prostitution charges in 2008. Acosta this week has faced calls to resign after Epstein was arrested on new sex trafficking charges related to his alleged abuse of underage girls. Acosta said the earlier deal was necessary to "put Epstein behind bars, ensure he registered as a sexual offender, provide victims with a means to seek restitution," and let people know Epstein was a sexual predator. Epstein ultimately served 13 months in jail but was able to leave during the day, six days a week. Acosta also defended the decision to negotiate the non-prosecution agreement without informing the victims, which a federal judge previously called illegal. [CNN, ABC News]

2.

Appeals court dismisses emoluments lawsuit against Trump

An appeals court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit accusing President Trump of profiting from foreign government visitors at his luxury Washington, D.C., hotel in violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause. The attorneys general from Maryland and D.C. filed the complaint, marking the first time a sitting president had been accused of sidestepping the anti-corruption rules, which were designed to prevent undue influence on government officials. The U.S. Appeals Court for the 4th Circuit dismissed the case on the grounds that the attorneys general did not have the legal standing to bring the lawsuit. A separate lawsuit launched by congressional Democrats is still ongoing. [The Washington Post]

3.

U.K. says Iranian boats tried to seize British oil tanker

Several Iranian boats tried to stop a British oil tanker moving out of the Persian Gulf into the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, but were driven off by a U.K. Royal Navy frigate that was escorting the tanker, Britain's defense ministry said. The Iranian vessels reportedly ordered the tanker, British Heritage, to reverse course and head for Iranian waters. The British frigate reportedly moved between the tanker and the Iranian boats, training its deck guns on them and ordering them to back off. Iran denied there was any confrontation. Last week, British Royal Marines in Gibraltar, at the request of the U.S., intercepted an Iranian ship that was believed to have been carrying oil to Syria, and Iran threatened to retaliate. [BBC News, CNN]

4.

Trump 4th of July celebration depleted D.C. security fund

President Trump's Fourth of July celebration exhausted Washington's special security fund, which is used to prevent terrorist threats on the nation's capital and protect people at rallies, state funerals, and other events. The celebration cost Washington, D.C., $1.7 million, in addition to what the police spent staffing demonstrations held over the weekend. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) wrote Trump on Tuesday saying that the fund is now empty and running a deficit estimated at $6 million for the current fiscal year. Bowser also said the security account was never reimbursed $7.3 million to cover costs incurred during Trump's 2017 inauguration. Bowser asked for the White House to pay back the money so local tax dollars wouldn't be used for security at federal events. [The Washington Post]

5.

House passes bill seeking to change wording of law describing presidents as male

The Democrat-controlled House on Wednesday passed a bill seeking to remove wording in a U.S. law that describes a president as male. The bill, dubbed the "21st Century President Act," would change a federal law that makes it a crime to threaten the president and first family. The law defines the president as male and the president's spouse as female. The new bill would replace references to the president's "wife" and "widow" to "spouse" and "surviving spouse." Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), an openly gay congressman who is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the new wording was necessary to reflect modern reality. "Currently federal law does not reflect the reality we could have a female or a gay president as soon as 2021," Pocan said. [USA Today]

6.

New Orleans hit with flooding ahead of possible hurricane

A tropical storm system in the Gulf of Mexico that could make landfall as a hurricane on Saturday started hitting New Orleans with flooding on Wednesday. Torrential rain and thunderstorms have drenched coastal Louisiana already, with the National Weather Service predicting the Mississippi River will hit a record-breaking 20-foot crest by Saturday — the same height as many levees surrounding New Orleans. Nearly 20,000 homes and businesses lost power due to Wednesday's flooding. Conditions are expected to worsen when what could become Tropical Storm Barry makes landfall either as tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane in New Orleans on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center predicts. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell declared a local state of emergency. [The Times-Picayune, CNN]

7.

U.S. accuses Iran of 'nuclear extortion'

The Trump administration on Wednesday accused Iran of "nuclear extortion" because of Tehran's push to enrich uranium beyond levels permitted under the country's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Iran has said it is doing so because European nations have failed to give it the sanctions relief promised under the accord following President Trump's decision to withdraw from the accord last year and impose new sanctions. "There is no credible reason for Iran to expand its nuclear program, and there is no way to read this as anything other than a crude and transparent attempt to extort payments from the international community," the U.S. said at an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. [The Washington Post]

8.

Fed Chair Powell signals interest-rate cut, boosting stocks

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday suggested in testimony to the House Financial Services Committee that the central bank could cut interest rates soon to boost the economy. The economy is strong, especially the job market, but President Trump's trade war with China and signs of a global slowdown could threaten America's record-long economic expansion, Powell told lawmakers, indicating the Fed might cut rates in late July. Powell's comments sent U.S. stocks rising, with the S&P 500 briefly rising above 3,000 for the first time. The Fed hasn't cut rates since reducing them to near zero to help the economy recover from the 2008-2009 financial crisis. U.S. stock index futures made further gains early Thursday ahead of Powell's testimony before the Senate Banking Committee. [The New York Times, CNBC]

9.

Poll: Abortion support ties record high level

Support for legal abortion tied the record highest level of support in a newly released Washington Post-ABC News poll. Sixty percent of the survey's respondents said abortion should be legal in most or all cases, up from 55 percent in a similar poll in 2013. Thirty-six percent said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. That figure tied a record low. Support for legal abortion rose by 16 percentage points to 71 percent among independent women voters, and by 12 points to 77 percent among Democrats. Forty-one percent said their states shouldn't make it harder or easier for women to get abortions. Thirty-two percent said their states should make abortion access easier, while 24 percent said their states should make it harder. [The Washington Post]

10.

Supporters chant 'equal pay' at parade for U.S. women's national soccer team

Fans on Wednesday celebrated the U.S. women's national soccer team's World Cup victory with a ticker tape parade in New York City. The team, back home from France after taking their second straight FIFA World Cup title, joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and soccer officials on a float. The team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 on Sunday. Crowds also showed support for team members by changing "equal pay," a reference to the dominant U.S. women's push for compensation on par with that of their less successful male counterparts. Megan Rapinoe, who won the Golden Boot after an all-around stellar performance during the tournament, closed out the parade by referring to the U.S.'s divided political climate, telling the crowd "we have to be better." [ESPN]